The History of the Waterbed

goatAccording to legend, the first water-filled beds were used in Persia more than 3,600 years ago and consisted of goatskins filled with water. No information is known as to why they did this; however some think that it was to comfort the sick and elderly, while others believe it was a bed designed for royalty.

The water bed mattress was introduced to the Western world in the 1800’s, when it was first used in aid of medicine.  In 1873, Sir James Paget at St Bartholomew’s Hospital presented a waterbed designed by Neil Arnott as a treatment and prevention of pressure ulcers (bed sores); a condition that was quite common in this era. Paget found that waterbeds allowed mattress pressure to be evenly distributed over the body. Unfortunately, this invention lacked the ability to regulate the temperature of the water.
St Bartholomew Hospital, London, England
St Bartholomew Hospital, London, England

Dr. William Hooper of Portsmouth, England also saw medicinal benefits in waterbeds, specifically with patients suffering from arthritis and rheumatism, and patented his waterbed invention in 1883. Unfortunately, his invention was also a market failure, since he could not come up with a way to properly regular the temperature or contain the water.

By 1895, a few waterbeds were sold via mail order by the British store, Harrod’s. They looked like (and were probably very similar to) very large hot water bottles. Unfortunately, production was halted due to the lack of suitable materials.

charleshallIt wasn’t until the invention of vinyl in the 1960’s that waterbeds would once again gain popularity. In 1968, Charles Hall, a design student at San Francisco State University in California, tried to invent the perfect chair. After stuffing his chair design with everything from cornstarch to jello, his failed attempts lead to his developing a bed, which would be much easier to fill and reproduce. His first waterbed mattress was called ‘the Pleasure Pit’ and it quickly gained popularity with the hippie culture of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  By 1987, waterbeds had achieved full-fledged fad status, representing over  22 percent of all U.S. mattress sales.

Today, waterbeds have really come a long way. The variety of bed designs, improved thermal and wave motion controls, and other options like lumbar supports, make it the most versatile of all beds on the market. The hybrid or soft sided water mattress has also gained huge popularity, since it fits on a regular bed frame and looks like a regular mattress, with the difference being that it contains the added advantage of a water core, allowing you to regulate the temperature of your bed, with your choice of different motion or wave control levels, firmness, and lumbar back support.

Now in our 14th year of operation, Waterbed and Futon has been the # 1 distributor of waterbeds, waterbed mattresses and waterbed accessories to businesses and customers across Canada.

To see our vast selection of waterbeds and waterbed mattresses, be sure to visit our waterbed gallery at: or call us at: 905-231-2310 for more information. We would also be happy to provide you with a FREE (over-the-phone) sleep consultation, to be sure you are choosing the best mattress for you or your loved one, and getting the maximum benefits from your waterbed. Call now for your FREE sleep consultation.

5 thoughts on “The History of the Waterbed”

  1. There is a local mattress store in my area that claims to have sold the 1st water bed in the U.S. in 1972. Capital Mattress and Waterbed in Latham,NY makes that claim.
    Is this true or just an advertising ploy? Please respond,
    Thank you.

  2. Myself and my partner opened the first retail water bed store on Hollywood Boulevard in 1970. At that time there had been 5 Water mattresses sold out of a hippie communal house at 1041 Eldon Street in Los Angeles. My partner, Pete Devaney, and myself introduced the waterbeds via newspapers, radio, and television with a contest held at the store in the 6400 Block of Hollywood Boulevard to determine who would be chosen as Miss Love Bed of 1970. That store was owned by Jack Neshoff who later was owner of the Hollywood Water Bed Company.

  3. I am reading a book called North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell that was published in 1854, and one character lends a waterbed to another, so they pre-date your 1873 James Paget reference.

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